Database design and management can be complex, but there are several database applications that facilitate easy setup and administration. Although these products differ in feature set and user interfaces, there are five key components that comprise a relational database regardless of which platform you select: Tables, rows, columns, records and keys.
Think of a database as a modular system: A database contains tables, tables contain rows, and columns and rows correspond to single records. Keys, particularly primary keys, act as unique identifiers in relational databases and the means by which such databases “relate” one table to another. Confused? Imagine, then, that you have a database with two tables. Table 1 contains employee names and employee social security numbers. The column containing social security numbers is set as a primary key. Table 2 contains employee social security numbers and employee home addresses. You can establish a relationship between Table 1 and Table 2 based on the primary key of social security numbers. This allows you to make queries or run reports that will pull up all of the information in both tables at the same time. This is, of course, a very simple example, but it gives a general idea of how tables, relationships, and keys work. Imagine a vast database with many sorts of information, and several keys, and you can see that a database can be a very powerful tool, indeed.
Database Products For All User Levels
Database design can be complicated for non-developers, so our Editors’ Choice for databases is FileMaker Pro 11. It’s an ideal way for those not well-versed in database design to create a database or ad-hoc report. With FileMaker Pro 11, small businesses can create powerful relational databases; easy-to-use does not translate into poor database development.
If you’re familiar with database solutions, Microsoft Access 2010 and Alpha Five v10 Developer may be more your speed. Both have a steeper learning curve than FileMaker Pro 11 does, but the underlying, real programming languages—VBA in Access 2010 and Ajax in Alpha Five v10—mean that developers can create highly customized solutions using the databases as back-ends.
Users accustomed to the familiar Microsoft Office ribbon interface (and who don’t require databases to be published to the Web) will find a lot to like in Access 2010. Redmond’s offering simplifies database creation with the use of templates and built-in macros. Should you want to publish a database to the Web, you’ll need a SharePoint 2010 server, or a Microsoft-hosted SharePoint site.
Alpha Five v10 simplifies the process of getting a database published to the Web, as everything you need to do so is included. The makers of Alpha Five v10 tout the product as a way for non-developers to build Ajax web applications. Indeed, it is a powerful product and during testing we were able to create several web apps without knowing a lick of Ajax, but there’s still an assumption that the user has rudimentary database knowledge, and therefore presents a learning curve to database novices.
There are also database offerings that are completely cloud-based. Intuit’s QuickBase, gives online access to database Web applications. Intuit has a history of creating consumer-level software, so the interface is clear and easy to navigate. As with any cloud-service though, QuickBase users are subject to any mishaps that the provider may be subject to including outages, security breaches and there’s the issue of relinquishing control of your data to the provider. Intuit recently raised the ire of customers after an outage left thousand without access to their business services. That’s always a risk with the cloud, but the benefit of not having to deploy and maintain a local database server makes QuickBase an alluring option.
Operating System Compatibility
Besides skill level, there is another consideration to ponder when selecting which database choice is right for you or your business: Operating system compatibility. Users working in predominately Windows-based networks may find Access 2010 an easy tool to create compatible complex applications. If you’re working with primarily with Macs, FileMaker’s Bento or FileMaker Pro 11 (which also supports Windows) may prove better fits. Bento is a more lightweight database management program than FileMaker Pro 11—perfect for a small business running Macs and without heavy database needs.
There’s also database usage to take into account. If you have a number of users—more than 20, who will be accessing the database throughout a workday—Access 2010 and Alpha Five v 10 can scale and handle a larger number of database transactions and simultaneous connections than a streamlined application such as Bento. FileMaker Pro 11 is also tailored more for the SMB, though FileMaker offers other editions for larger organizations, like FileMaker Server 11 Advanced.
Database design and management need not be painful and arduous. Anyone can get a database up and running with a little willingness to get acquainted with the basic concepts.
– PC Magazine